The world has changed. Hard Knocks is constant. Even in a COVID-19 world, the HBO sports documentary series delivered its season opener Tuesday night as viewers got an all-access look into the Los Angeles Rams and Chargers training camp sites. Below are five takeaways from the opening episode.
Training camp will look different than ever before
On the same day that the 2020 college football season crumbled, the NFL showed the world how it hopes to host its campaign. During the episode, players asked coaches numerous questions about the league’s health protocols. The answers were impressive, given the circumstances. Temperature checks. Socially distanced meeting rooms. Mask-optional walkthroughs. And, of course, nose swab–style coronavirus tests that make even the most physically gifted men hesitant, such as Chargers cornerback Casey Hayward. As the two-time Pro Bowler sat down to get his nose swabbed, he told his doctor, “I’m nervous.”
Head coaches Anthony Lynn and Sean McVay each delivered intense and urgent spiels about the need to follow health protocols, not only to protect their respective seasons, but to prevent others from being exposed to the disease. Lynn described his Chargers as facing two opponents this year: other NFL teams and COVID-19.
“Both are equally important,” he said. “COVID might be more important. … Whoever shows the most leadership will have the advantage this year.”
Anthony Lynn had COVID-19
Hard Knocks wasted little time jarring its audience. In the opening scene, Lynn shared with his players via Zoom that he had contracted COVID-19, something that hadn’t been publicly known prior. Lynn is the third NFL head coach known to have had the disease (the Eagles’ Doug Pederson and the Saints’ Sean Payton are the others).
Lynn said he isn’t sure how he got infected. He experienced soreness, body aches, and had a cough. He wasn’t able to get comfortable when sleeping in bed. He was watching a golf tournament and saw a player withdraw with similar symptoms. He then got tested.
“If I hadn’t been watching that golf event and saw that golfer complain about backaches and soreness,” Lynn said, “I never would’ve even gotten tested.” Lynn added that he felt like an outcast after contracting it for fear of transmitting the disease to anyone else.
Lynn wasn’t the only person on Hard Knocks who has had the disease. The show also revealed Rams rookie outside linebacker Terrell Lewis tested positive for COVID-19. The third-round pick out of Alabama said he was told to quarantine for a 10-day period. He returned to the team on August 9.
Donte Deayon could be this year’s fan favorite
Hard Knocks always gives us fan favorites—the Brogan Roback and Charles James II fan clubs are eternal—and with cuts arriving earlier this year, we can only hope to get more familiar with Rams cornerback Donte Deayon.
Deayon, who’s 5-foot-9 and 159 pounds, first appeared in a scene chirping at All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald about how ripped he is, boasting that he’s just like the 6-foot-1, 280-pound lineman.
We later see Deayon give a tour of his side of the locker room, which he refers to as the “Good Projects” before running back to tease All-Pro cornerback Jalen Ramsey, whose locker is on the other side, which Deayon designates as the “Suburbs.” Deayon, 26, has spent each of the past two seasons on the Rams practice squad. Hard Knocks loves to give viewers a fringe roster player to root for. Deayon might be that guy this year.
Stop asking Jalen Ramsey about his contract
Ramsey, whom the Rams acquired in a trade from the Jaguars last season, is entering the final year of his contract. He’s due for a massive payday, especially since L.A. gave up multiple first-round picks to get the former All-Pro corner. Hard Knocks showed us what went down when a reporter pressed Ramsey during a Zoom press conference about how he’d feel entering the year without it handled. After responding that he’d let his agent and the Rams front office handle negotiations, he didn’t take kindly to being asked about the situation again.
Meanwhile, it’s a very different situation for the Chargers and Joey Bosa. The star defensive lineman was shown reacting to signing his five-year, $135 million deal last month. He shed some tears as he explained how much inking the deal meant to him. Chargers fans probably did too, knowing they have his services locked down for the future.
Justin Herbert has already impressed
The Chargers selected Herbert with the no. 6 pick in the draft, making him the future of the franchise. He’s already leaving a good impression on his teammates, including rookie running back Darius Bradwell.
Herbert is expected to sit behind Tyrod Taylor. “[Taylor will] probably be the Day One starter,” Lynn said, “but Justin is picking things up. He’s getting better every day.” It’s an encouraging sign for Herbert as the Oregon product gets acquainted to the league in an unprecedented year.